The Breast Friends, a group of women from Foam Lake, spoke at the Prince Albert Canadian Cancer Society’s Lunch With Friends event at the Travelodge on Wednesday.
© Herald photo by Jodi Schellenberg
Cecile Halyk of Breast Friends speaks at the Prince Albert Canadian Cancer Society luncheon at the Travelodge Wednesday.
“I’m honoured to be able to be part of this Lunch with Friends Cancer Awareness Lunch,” Breast Friend Cecile Halyk said. “To be a Breast Friend is a special, rewarding time and experience as we reflect back over the nine years of our work.”
About nine years ago, the group of women from Foam Lake got together after their friend, Jack, lost two sisters to breast cancer.
“Cancer had touched each of us and our families and friends,” Halyk said. “A familiar quote rang true for me then as it does today, ‘Sorrow makes us all children again, destroys all differences of intellect, the wisest know nothing.’ As we grieved, it was natural that we wanted to do something to help Jack cope and to support this fight against this disease that has become more common among us.”
During their married lives, the women were on committees and boards, often meeting and solving problems together, raising much-needed funds for their communities.
“Using food and cooking as a medium was also natural,” Halyk said. “We are all mothers and grandmothers and have spent a portion of our lives in the kitchen. We celebrate life with food, we share life with food and we donate food to neighbours and friends as a gesture of care and support.”
They had a lot of time on their hands with their children grown up and having left the nest, so they decided to band together for a new cause.
“We decided to host a banquet in memory of very special people we had lost to breast cancer,” Halyk said. “We were flooded with requests for the recipes, so we decided to write and publish a small community cookbook and donate the proceeds.”
They cooked, tested recipes, took photos, researched cancer information, wrote out the recipes and hired a printer, publisher and graphic artist.
“With our collaborative business sense, we formed a non-profit company and published the Breast Friends targeted to breast health needs,” Halyk said. “We stuck out our necks, took out our cheque books and printed 1,500 copies.”
Their gamble paid off -- the first printing of the cookbook only lasted three days and the second printing was sold within three months.
Instead of slowing down, after the death of one of the member’s husband, the group decided to try again and came out with the second book, For the Breasts and the Rest of Friends.
“We dedicated it to Kevin and other family members and two of my siblings we lost to other cancers,” Halyk said. “We called them the angels among us. In a few weeks, it was a bestseller. It also held the distinction of being the No. 1 selling book in that year in a couple major Saskatchewan bookstores.”
Their success continued with the third book, Breast Wishes, which was inspired by the stories of cancer survivors they heard throughout their book signings and public appearances.
“It is a book of hope, celebrating life and good news,” Halyk said.
They continued fundraising and donated $100,000 to the oncology ward of the Saskatchewan Children’s Hospital.
“Good things come in threes, so we thought things were winding down, but these books had a life of their own,” Halyk said. “Book sales and coverage increased and sales spiked. There were more request for donations as well, energizing us, prompting us to wind up instead of wind down.”
Soon after they released the fourth book, Breast Wishes for Christmas, a holiday-themed cookbook.
“Nothing could prepare us for the avalanche of orders following our appearance on Dragon’s Den,” Halyk said. “With four national bestsellers and a delicious variety of treats for the dragons, we ventured into the den.”
Although they were nervous, all the dragons jumped on board the project.
“Far from scary dragons, these were five charitable individuals who celebrated our success, loved the story behind the books and wanted to help us further with their marketing expertise,” Halyk said. “We were featured on the Dragon’s Den Christmas show. Our sales and corresponding donations skyrocketed.”
Their fifth book, Breast Wishes for the Men in our Lives, garnered international attention, nominated for two prestigious awards.
“(It is) dedicated to the supporting men in our lives and donate to prostate cancer initiatives,” Halyk said. “It’s man friendly jargon, jokes and food are geared towards the summer, golf and football seasons. It is the only cookbook my husband ever reads.”
Up against Michelle Obama’s American Grown, the women from Foam Lake won Gourmand World’s Best North American Charity
The ladies, eight of whom flew to Paris for the award ceremony, were surprised and shocked.
“We were stunned with excitement when we were called up to the stage,” Halyk said. “With our men’s book, Breast Wishes for the men in our lives, featured on a huge screen along with our name as an award winners of the North America Charity Cookbook.”
They still cannot believe they beat out the First Lady’s cookbook.
“We are thinking the spirit of the story behind the book, as well as the grassroots support, helped to explain our win,” Halyk said.
Recently, the ladies released their sixth cookbook, Breast Friends Inspire Health. It is a cookbook full of nutritious, healthy but still delicious recipes.
“The link between what we eat and our overall wellbeing is undisputed,” Halyk said.
“Practical research-based information on lifestyle choices, evidence-based information and food that will build health and strategy to manage post-cancer care,” she added. “Chemotherapy, radiation and surgery are part of cancer treatment, however there are other doable, effective strategies that one can choose after cancer diagnosis which can build health and help in the recovery process. These strategies are helpful for any one of us, cancer or not.”
The cookbook also shares the stories of many celebrities, including Pamela Wallin and Brett Wilson, who are cancer survivors. They also researched and looked into the Inspire Health program from Vancouver, looking at ways to bring it to Saskatchewan.
“We are convinced this is a good fit for Breast Friends funding,” Halyk said. “This month, we just sponsored our eighth Life Program in Saskatchewan.”
She said the cookbook inspires people in many ways and raises awareness of food choices and the links in preventing cancer and building health.
“It truly inspires health on two fronts,” Halyk said. “The proceeds go to fight cancer and the nutritious recipes build health.”
Halyk said through Breast Friends, they have donated about $1.4 million for cancer research. She believes the cookbooks are so popular because the disease affects everyone.
“Cancer strikes almost every family; the statistics are alarming,” Halyk said. “We believe the success of these books is especially due to the fact that through the sales we are helping tangible community health needs.”
The cookbooks are more than just recipes, Halyk added.
“They offer inspiration, insight chuckles and give valuable information and food for thought,” Halyk said. “People love them for gifts because they are doing double duty -- good food for a good cause.”
The women are proud their books have already helped so many people and they could give so much to other organizations.
“Breast Friends have seen some measure of life struggles and sadness, as well as surprises,” Halyk said. “We have laughed together and certainly cried together. We were thrilled to be named one of 10 Canadian Dragon’s Den game changers and humbled to be among the amazing women leaders to be named Women of Distinction.”
The Breast Friends are on Facebook and have a website www.breastfriends.ca. Their cookbooks are also available at Canadian Tire and Pharmasave. All the proceeds from the books sold at the luncheon went directly to the Prince Albert branch of the Canadian Cancer Society.